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Belgian police raid 200 premises in drug operation linked to breach of encrypted phone network

More than 1,600 police and law enforcement officials conduct drug raids after the compromise of an encrypted mobile phone network that has parallels with EncroChat

Belgian police raided 200 premises this morning in what prosecutors describe as one of the biggest police operations conducted in the country.

The raids follows widespread reports that Belgium’s law enforcement agencies have compromised an encrypted mobile phone network.

Belgian prosecutors refused to comment on whether they had gained access to the Sky ECC phone network. “We do not confirm, we do not deny. We don’t say anything about this,” a spokesman for the Federal Prosecutor’s Office told Computer Weekly.

Sky ECC did not respond to questions from Computer Weekly. The company’s Belgian site was offline today.

The Federal Prosecutor’s office said 1,600 Belgian law enforcement officers took part in coordinated raids between 5am and 11am today.

Police seized evidence and made arrests, with operations centring on the Antwerp region.

The operation followed two and a half years of planning, said a spokesman. Belgian prosecutors gave the go-ahead for the operation a year ago.

Police investigations focused on drugs, but also money laundering and bribery.

“We have to take all the information that we get today, and it will slowly take months or weeks or more – so we have a lot of work,” said the spokesman.

“Quite possibly there are links with other countries, but the investigation is purely Belgian.”

According to reports in Belgium, the police investigation focused on networks of people using Sky ECC cryptophones.

Sky ECC became the communication tool of choice for organised crime after French and Dutch police compromised the EncroChat encrypted mobile phone service last year.

The UK’s National Crime Agency, the Metropolitan Police and Regional Organised Crime Units made hundreds of arrests around the UK after the French gendarmerie shared intercepted messages from EncroChat phones with UK law enforcement.

Belgian’s federal computer crime unit is claimed to have gained access to tens of thousands of messages exchanged by drug gangs using Sky ECC.

Sky ECC bills itself as the “most secure messaging platform you can buy”. It supplies phones that offer self-destructing messages, secure audio messages, a secure encrypted vault, and an app that in “stealth mode” can disguise itself as a calculator.

Modified phones, which are available in Android and iOs, can be bought online or through “authorised partners” for between €900 and €2,000, depending on model.

The phones are modified to remove the camera, microphone and GPS to make them more secure. Uses can wipe the contents of the phone using a “panic” password.

The service costs €2,200 a year and can be paid for in bitcoin, making it more difficult to trace the phones’ ownership.

Sky ECC is marketed by Sky Global, a privately owned company based in Vancouver, Canada. It said it released its phone 10 years ago.

The EncroChat mobile phone network was found to have 60,000 users worldwide and about 10,000 in the UK, and led to hundreds of arrests in the UK after it was compromised by French police, who were able to infect the phones with a malware implant.

The resulting investigations in the UK, dubbed Operation Venetic, resulted in hundreds of arrests, the seizure of tens of millions in cash, illegal firearms including AK-47 assault rifles, submachine guns and grenades, tonnes of class A and B drugs and illicit Valium, luxury cars and luxury watches.

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